Rare World Series footage found in Yukon permafrost

An image of the Chicago White Sox bench. They were later referred to as the
An image of the Chicago White Sox bench. They were later referred to as the “Black Sox,” after a suspected game fixing scandal was confirmed the following year. (Library and Archives Canada)
A rare newsreel film has turned up in Canada of one of the most controversial episodes in baseball history.

In the 1919 World Series, eight Chicago White Sox players- including star outfielder “shoeless” Joe Jackson- were accused of intentionally losing to the Cincinatti Reds in a gambling conspiracy.

(The conspiracy wasn’t confirmed until September 1920. The eight were later all acquitted in court, but nevertheless banned from baseball for life).

The newly “rediscovered” British-Canadian Pathé newsreel was part of a unique treasure trove of rare old films originally buried in permafrost in the Yukon.

In the early part of the last century, Dawson City, located in Canada’s northwestern Yukon territory,  was at the end-of -the-line of the movie distribution circuit and reachable only after a long passage from the south by ocean steamer, narrow gauge mountain railway, and river paddlewheeler.

Because the post-gold rush town was distant, there was a hunger for films and news from outside.  Hollywood features and newsreels were extremely popular.

However, after making the long arduous trip to Dawson City, most people in the industry were not interested in paying the expense to get “outdated” films back.

They ended up being stored in the basement of the local library.

By the late 20’s however, the town felt the stockpile of highly flammable nitrate films posed a real fire threat, and so they were used to fill up an old swimming pool that was to be turned into a skating rink.

There they remained, forgotten but well preserved in their mostly frozen and oxygen free tomb, until they were dug up by chance by a construction crew in 1978.

Some 500 rare films were then sent to Canada’s public Archives and are preserved in the national capital region.

The films include rare newsreels and Hollywood features from 1910 to the 1920s.

The “find” of the 1919 baseball series was uncovered by accident by a New York City-based filmmaker doing research for a documentary on Dawson City.

Although hiding in plain site, he came across the film labelled only 1919 World Series, which had been filmed and distributed before the scandal broke.

Because there was no indication of the scandal on the film container, the American researcher said it was evident the Archives were not aware of the significance of the film, until he advised them.
Library and Archives Canada has since posted the newsreel on YouTube.

Related Links:

Canada: One of Canada’s northernmost cinemas is going digital, CBC News

Russia:  Virus revived from ancient permafrost in Siberia, CBC News

United States:  A silver screen for Bethel, Alaska, Alaska Dispatch

Marc Montgomery, Radio Canada International

With a passion for anything antique with an engine, and for Canadian and world history, Marc comes with a wealth of media experience. After DJ work at private radio in southern Ontario, and with experience in Canadian Forces radio and tv in Europe, the state broadcaster in Austria (Radio 3), and the CBC in Ottawa and Montreal, he was the host of the immensely popular CBC and RCI show, "The Link". He is now part of the new RCI online team producing stories from and about Canada from coast to coast.

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